Human ancestors and the evolutionary history of the human vertebral column

We aim to identify phylogenetic and ontogenetic differences across the entire vertebral column in humans, apes, and fossil species.

Subadult Australopithecus afarensis specimen, DIK 1-1. (A) Photograph of the DIK-1-1 vertebrae in block with skull, pectoral girdle, and rib fragments before complete preparation. The vertebral column is highlighted. (B) Entire articulated cervical and thoracic column of DIK-1-1, with vertebral levels indicated on each bone, demonstrating the presence of seven cervical and 12 thoracic (rib-bearing) vertebrae. Most of these vertebrae cannot be disarticulated mechanically. (C) The three caudal-most preserved vertebrae—T10, T11, and T12—with rib facets indicated (arrows) on T11 and T12.

3D surface model of a subadult orangutan. Surface models of infant and juvenile ape skeletons are being scanned and archived in Dr. Nalley’s lab for comparative work on the growth and development of fossil human ancestors.

Functional morphology of primate cervical vertebrae, basicranium, and shoulder

We investigate the function-form relationships between cranial shape, cervical bony and soft tissue morphologies, and positional behaviors to better understand adaptation in living primates and to aid reconstructions of behavior in fossil taxa.

3D rendering of contrast-enhanced microCT scans of a tarsier primate. These data are part of a larger comparative project investigating adaptation and in situ relationships between bony and soft tissue structures in the primate neck.

Three-dimensional surface model of juvenile chimpanzee C1 with 3D coordinate landmarks used to quantify functional aspects of joint shape.